So many business ventures operate what I call a “field-of-dreams” business model, i.e. “build it and they will come”. There’s no need to worry about market research, prototyping, promotion, advertising, just build it. They – the audience, the customer, the user, whatever – will come.
Hmmm. it might have worked for Kevin Costner in a feel-good Hollywood movie, but it’s not a great business approach. Few hits happen serendipitously.
One example oft cited of the “field of dreams” reality distortion field is Rovio’s phenomenally successfully Angry Birds game, which started off as an iPhone application and has gone on to become a mass-market phenomenon, with follow up games across all platforms and merchandise from hundreds of licensees. But Angry Birds was not just a fluke success. Rovio developed dozens of games before hitting the jackpot with Angry Birds. Rovio didn’t just build one field of dreams hoping it would attract and audience, they built dozens, constantly refining their approach, both technically and conceptually with each one. I would argue that they designed with success in mind, and then once they had a modicum of grass-roots following, marketed the hell out of it, to grow it into the worldwide smash it became.
The same applies to an incentive program. You cannot hope that you can just launch it and it will be successful. You have to promote it to get that user engagement, and making accessing the online site a regular habit, Motivation campaigns are most effective with regular contact with users, and continuous reinforcement of the aims of the program and the benefits to be had.
It’s also crucial to be able to tweak things. The danger of the “build it and they will come” approach is to think that once it has been built no further work is necessary, and that therefore all the work should be front-loaded. But when the program meets the users is when the work really starts. To be successful an incentive program must adapt over the course of the activity, with new content, new functionality, and to respond to the usage patterns that emerge. As we have said before, an incentive program that does not adapt will soon become irrelevant to its participants, or it will lock-in behaviours for just doing the same old things.
So rather than “build it and they will come”, we would advocate “plan carefully, build it quickly, communicate widely to users, then tweak in response to feedback”. It might not be as catchy, but it is more effective to pursue an iterative approach and evolve a winning solution. To continue the baseball analogy it’s about building an innings rather than trying to hit it out of the park with the first swing of the bat.